Journal article

Pesticides and amphibians: The importance of community context

Relyea R, Schoeppner N, Hoverman J ...see all

Ecological Applications, vol. 15, issue 4 (2005) pp. 1125-1134

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The widespread application of pesticides has attracted the attention of ecologists as we struggle to understand the impacts of these chemicals on natural communities. While we have a large number of laboratory-based, single-species studies of pesticides, such studies can only examine direct effects. However, in natural communities, species can experience both direct and indirect effects. We conducted an outdoor mesocosm experiment on aquatic communities containing three tadpole species (Hyla versicolor, Bufo americanus, and Rana pipiens), zooplankton, and algae. We then manipulated a factorial combination of predators (no predators; newts, Notophthalmus viridescens; and larval beetles, Dytiscus sp.) and pesticides (no pesticides, the insecticide malathion, and the herbicide Roundup). We found that Roundup (1.3 mg of active ingredient/L) had substantial direct negative effects on the tadpoles, reducing total tadpole survival and biomass by 40%. However, Roundup had no indirect effects on the amphibian community via predator survival or algal abundance. Malathion (0.3 mg/L) had few direct effects on the tadpoles. Malathion caused no indirect effects with one of the predators (red-spotted newts) but caused substantial positive effects on amphibians (a five-fold increase in total tadpole survival and biomass) due to the sensitivity of the predatory beetles to the insecticide. Thus, while high concentrations of malathion can directly kill larval anurans, more ecologically relevant concentrations can have large positive effects in mesocosms by removing predatory insects. These results make it clear that pesticides can have both direct and indirect effects in natural communities and that these effects critically depend upon the composition of the community.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Amphibian decline
  • Bufo americanus
  • Dytiscus
  • Food web
  • Hyla versicolor
  • Malathion
  • Non-target species
  • Notophthalmus viridescens
  • Rana pipiens
  • Roundup
  • Synergy
  • Trophic cascades

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  • Rick A. Relyea

  • Nancy M. Schoeppner

  • Jason T. Hoverman

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